The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is still dealing with last year’s hurricane season—and the 2018 season is less than two months away.
The federal agency extended its shelter program another month for survivors of Hurricane Harvey Tuesday, while the Puerto Rican government requested that FEMA extend the Transitional Assistance Program for Hurricane Maria refugees Wednesday. Both these programs help cover the costs of hotels and other temporary housing for individuals and families whose homes were left uninhabitable after these destructive natural disasters.
For those who forgot, the likely climate change-fueled Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in August 2017. After the deluge, FEMA approved more than 370,000 applicants throughout Texas for aid. Today, more than 4,000 people remain in FEMA-funded hotel rooms, according to an online tool the governor’s office put out. This storm impacted people of color hardest as they’ve struggled to find new jobs.
Puerto Ricans have dealt with similar struggles after Hurricane Maria—except many were forced to leave the island. Power is unreliable, as a major power outage on Wednesday reminds us. In New York City, 86 households must check out of their hotels by April 21, even though they were promised a deadline of May 14, according to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. In Central Florida, about 1,800 evacuees would be required to leave hotels this week, too.
De Blasio is saying May 14 isn’t even enough time, calling on FEMA to extend the program further so that families don’t have to move again. For students, moving means a new school. For parents, it might mean having to find a new job.
“It is vital that FEMA approve this request immediately so that countless Puerto Rican families, who have lost everything as a result of this catastrophic disaster, are not once again uprooted in a chaotic fashion,” wrote Carlos Mercader, the executive director of the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration, in a statement.
The hurricane season of 2017 will go down in history—both for the ferocity of its storms and for the failure of the government to respond appropriately and efficiently. Nice job, America.
Update 4/20/2018 1pm: Right in the nick of time, FEMA has agreed to unconditionally extend its TSA housing program through the original deadline of May 14, according to Florida Senator Bill Nelson. “The decision means that the 600 displaced families in Florida that FEMA had planned on evicting from their hotel rooms as early as today will now be allowed to stay through at least May 14,” a statement issued by Nelson’s office reads, as reported by WKMG News 6.
The senator also took to Twitter to announce the good news.